The current Texas Longhorns staff, and more specifically, running backs coach Stan Drayton, have received a considerable share of criticism in recent years in regards to running back recruiting.
Fair or not, the staff essentially inherited some the Texas fan base’s frustrations from the Charlie Strong era striking out on in-state star J.K. Dobbins. And though that wasn’t a miss on the part of the current regime, the narrative didn’t benefit much from Dobbins scampering for 1,403 yards during his debut season in Columbus as Herman and his staff struggled to piece together a competent running back rotation.
The staff bounced back admirably to cap Herman’s first full cycle in Austin, signing their top target at the position in Carthage star Keaontay Ingram, but the narrative soon soured once more during the 2019 cycle as Texas missed on elite talents in Trey Sanders (Alabama), and maybe more notably given his ties to the Dallas-area, Noah Cain (Penn State). Never mind that Texas did sign four-star Buford (Ga.) star Derrian Brown, who served as the highest-ranked running back prospect (No. 12) to sign to a Big 12 team in 2019. The reality remained that Texas missed on Sanders and Cain, and those kinds of misses would quite simply be considered inexcusable entering the 2020 class.
The clear priority option to that end was, of course, Galena Park North Shore’s Zachary Evans. Not only was Evans regarded as the nation’s top-ranked running back prospect, but he’s an in-state product, which could have proven especially advantageous after the chore of trying to recruit Sanders and Cain out of Florida’s IMG Academy in 2019. Seemingly countless trips to the Forty Acres later, and it appeared as if the Longhorns had positioned themselves fairly comfortably as the frontrunner for the five-star talent.
Then came Evans’ late May list cut, and the Longhorns were surprisingly left on the outside looking in.
“It’s just … you don’t know how to put it,” Evans told 247Sports’ Chris Hummer of his decision to exclude the Longhorns from his top list. “I don’t want to be disrespectful. I ain’t saying (Texas) can’t win a natty. It’s just at the moment [Texas is] not quite there. You beat Georgia but you barely beat Georgia. What about when it comes to a Bama or go to a Clemson?
”Texas is a good school, they coming up,” Evans added. “It’s just ... I don’t know.”
Evans has since returned to Austin for an unofficial visit in late June, but momentum between the two sides simply never materialized again.
However, in the aftermath of Evans’ decision, five-star Tucson (Az.) Salpointe Catholic product Bijan Robinson emerged as Texas’ priority at the position, and the interest was certainly reciprocated. After visiting Austin for the spring game, Robinson also reportedly named the Longhorns as his leader during an Instagram Live segment on June 12, just days ahead of his scheduled June 21 official visit to Texas.
Prior to his return this to Texas, though, Robinson officially visited Ohio State on June 14, and slowly but surely, momentum began to overwhelmingly favor the Buckeyes — so much so, in fact, that at this point last week, it was believed that Robinson to Ohio State was a foregone conclusion; a sentiment that existed throughout most of July.
Robinson was widely expected to become just the latest miss for the Longhorns, and given that Evans excluded Texas and that Louisiana native Ashaad Johnson isn’t a realistic option, the Longhorns’ 11 running back offers this cycle would go without netting a single pledge.
Then came decision week.
On Sunday morning, news surfaced suggesting that Robinson abruptly — and certainly shockingly — altered his intentions of taking his talents to Ohio State. Shortly thereafter, one report and Crystal Ball pick after another rolled in indicating that Texas had re-emerged as the team to beat.
Of course, those projections proved true on Friday afternoon, as Robinson announced that he is, in fact, joining the burnt orange nation.
Now, it suddenly seems as if not all is wrong with Texas’ running back recruiting, though interestingly enough, the negative narrative that lingered to this point was quite arguably misguided, in any case.
Despite the noted misses that bring frustration to a fan base, Texas did still sign the top-ranked Big 12-bound running backs in 2018 and 2019 in Ingram and Brown, respectively. But nevertheless, that truly elite talent eluded that Longhorns.
The addition of Robinson re-writes that narrative.
Save for Evans shocking the recruiting world and taking his talents to Oklahoma, Robinson, too, will become the highest-ranked running back to sign to a Big 12 team, which will mark the third time in as many classes than Drayton and the Longhorns enjoyed such a feat. Only this time around, for the first time since Johnathan Gray signed to Mack Brown’s 2012 class, the signature will come five-star running back.